Summer vacations in Europe are a step closer to reality after European Union representatives on Wednesday agreed to ease travel restrictions for vaccinated visitors and any traveler from countries where COVID-19 is under control.
But don’t pack just yet.
The timing of the reopening is unclear pending final approval expected later this week by the Council of the European Union. EU officials have been saying for weeks that summer travel will be allowed, but no dates have been released, and many of the details will be up to the 27 member countries.
The lifting of travel restrictions isn’t mandatory and won’t come with a timetable, meaning travelers could face a hodgepodge of European travel rules and restrictions well into the summer.
And keep in mind that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and U.S State Department still recommend against nonessential travel despite the CDC’s updated advice that vaccinated Americans can safely resume travel at low risk to themselves.
Here’s what we know about Europe travel for Americans as summer vacation season approaches.
Can fully vaccinated Americans visit Europe immediately?
The European Union’s broad ban on nonessential travel for travelers from the United States and other countries outside the EU remains in place until the new travel guidelines are formally approved later this week.
Individual countries could reopen to vaccinated Americans soon after, officials say, but the timing and terms will be up to each country so Europe-bound travelers will likely still have to navigate a patchwork of entry rules. Another factor: Timing on when a system for providing proof of vaccination is put in place.
Some countries, including Greece, Croatia, Iceland, Italy, France and Germany have already started to reopen or plan to reopen soon to vaccinated visitors and/or those with a negative COVID test. Rules vary by country.
With Italy’s relaxed restrictions for vacationers, American, Delta and United airlines are each offering select quarantine-free flights from the East Coast to Italy for passengers who test negative for COVID before and after the flight.
Start packing:Airlines adding flights to European countries open to vaccinated Americans
Will unvaccinated children be allowed to travel with vaccinated family members?
Children who haven’t been able to get a COVID vaccine should be able to travel with their vaccinated parents if they have a negative PCR COVID-19 test taken no more than 72 hours before arrival, the EU says. Member states could require additional testing after arrival.
Will only vaccinated tourists be allowed in when EU travel ban ends?
The EU’s relaxed travel restrictions apply to vaccinated tourists from the U.S. and around the globe who have received EU authorized vaccines.
Travelers who aren’t vaccinated can only visit for vacation and other nonessential reasons if they come from countries with low COVID rates, a policy in place since last summer.
Currently, the EU only considers eight countries to be in a “good epidemiological situation.” They are: Australia, New Zealand, Israel, Singapore, South Korea, Rwanda, Thailand and, subject to a reciprocity agreement, China.
Travelers from those countries are free to travel to the EU regardless of vaccination status but may be subject to COVID testing requirements, quarantine and other rules.
The good news is that the list is expected to grow soon given new criteria on COVID case rates that was also approved by EU officials Wednesday.
It is unclear whether the U.S. will make the cut on that front at least initially but when and if the U.S. makes the list, American travelers will be able to enter the EU regardless of vaccination status.
Will travelers still have to provide a negative COVID test to fly back to the United States?
The CDC requires that travelers boarding international flights to the United States – even those who are vaccinated – provide a negative COVID test or proof of recovery from COVID within the past 90 days.
Take a test with you:At home COVID tests now accepted for international flights to US
What are the 27 EU countries?
There are 27 countries in the European Union: Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyrpus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain and Sweden.
Can Americans travel to UK and England?
The United Kingdom left the European Union in early 2020. The United States and the U.K. are in talks for a travel corridor that would ease travel restrictions between the two regions. Americans who want to visit now must generally quarantine for 10 days, among other restrictions.
Will airlines add flights to Europe as EU travel ban ends?
Airlines, hotels, restaurants and tourist attractions are eager for European borders to reopen, though the EU’s timing may not be soon enough to save the critical summer travel season given traditional booking patterns for international getaways.
In a typical year, 60% to 65% of plane tickets to Europe have already been booked by now, according to Vasu Raja, Chief Revenue Officer of American Airlines.
“A lot of the customers that would have gone there have already booked trips to Hawaii or Florida anyway,” he said in late April.
Still, airlines report strong demand for flights to the small number of countries that have already reopened or will reopen soon to vaccinated Americans.
United Airlines saw a 19% increase in flight searches to Europe the late April day the news broke that trips to Europe might be a possibility for vaccinated Americans this summer.
So any new flights will be dependent on travel demand and airlines’ ability to reboot European operations.
American Airlines President Robert Isom said the airline is going to “be smart about” how many flights to add given that the major ticket purchasing window has already passed.
The airline also needs time to get planes and pilots into position and to reopen cities that were mothballed when the pandemic crushed travel.
Harris Poll survey: Majority of Americans not ready to travel abroad
Is it risky to book a trip to Europe right now?
It depends on a number of factors, including how soon you hope to go given the unclear timetable for reopening of each country.
Also, the EU’s recommendations to member countries about lifting travel restrictions includes an “emergency brake” given continued concerns about coronavirus variants.
Countries will be able to “quickly and temporarily” limit travel from affected countries to limit the import of COVID variants if the need arises.
So travelers should make sure plane tickets, hotel and vacation rental bookings and activities have flexible policies.
Airlines more flexible: American, United, Delta eliminate change fees on (most) international tickets
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